Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Hochelaga.
I appreciate the opportunity to take part in today's debate on Bill C-8, an act to implement certain provisions of the economic and fiscal update tabled in Parliament on December 14, 2021 and other measures. This bill is about making sure we have the tools we need to protect Canadians.
For two years, Canadians have been grappling with COVID-19. Two years ago, this pandemic triggered the steepest economic contraction in Canada since the Great Depression. At its worst, it cost three million Canadians their jobs as our GDP shrank by 17%.
Today, even in spite of ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic, we are on a strong footing. Canadians have put saving lives first. This has meant one of the lowest mortality rates in the G7. As of March 25, over 85% of Canadians five years and older are fully vaccinated.
The Canadian economy has seen the benefits of prioritizing our health. The Canadian labour market rebounded strongly from the omicron wave in February. We have already more than recovered lost jobs, a healing that took eight months longer than after the much milder 2008 recession. In fact, as of February, we have recovered 112% of the jobs lost during the pandemic period, compared to just 90% in the U.S., and faster than after any other recession. Encouragingly, growth was broad-based, supported by solid underlying fundamentals and an ongoing rebound in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic.
However, even with these encouraging signs, we know that businesses, especially small businesses, continue to need support. That is what Bill C-8 delivers, support where it is needed. Many small businesses continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic. They are playing a critical role by making sure their workers and clients are safe. They understand that proper ventilation makes indoor air healthier and safer, helping reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Many continue to make further improvements to their indoor air quality, to protect their workers and customers. However, they are finding that investing in equipment to improve ventilation can be costly. That is why Bill C-8 is proposing a refundable small business air quality improvement tax credit of 25% on eligible air quality improvement expenses incurred by small businesses. This measure would make it more affordable for them to invest in safer and healthier ventilation and air filtration.
Businesses would receive the credit on eligible expenses incurred between September 1, 2021 and December 31, 2022 relating to the purchase or upgrade of mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and the purchase of stand-alone devices designed to filter air using high-efficiency particulate air filters, up to a maximum of $10,000 per location and $50,000 in total. That is not just a good deal for businesses; it is a good investment in the health and safety of Canadians.
Our government has delivered significant fiscal policy support to Canadians during this pandemic, with $8 out of every $10 spent to fight COVID having been spent by the federal government. This has contributed to a rapid and resilient recovery so far.
The vast majority of the government's recovery plan is targeted towards growth-enhancing and job-creating initiatives such as the Canada emergency business account, which has been one of the key government supports for small businesses throughout the pandemic.
The CEBA program has provided interest-free, partially forgivable loans of up to $60,000 to small businesses to help recover their operating costs during times when their revenues have been reduced. In total, the CEBA has provided over $49 billion in support to nearly 900,000 small businesses affected by the pandemic.
In January, our government announced that the repayment deadline for the CEBA loans to qualify for partial loan forgiveness is being extended from December 31, 2022 to December 31, 2023 for all eligible borrowers in good standing. This extension would support short-term economic recovery and offer greater repayment flexibility to small businesses and not-for-profit organizations, many of which are facing continued challenges due to the pandemic.
Repayment on or before the new deadline of December 31, 2023 will result in loan forgiveness of up to one-third of the value of the loans, which means up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness. Bill C-8 would set a limitation period of six years for debts under the CEBA program to ensure that CEBA loan holders are provided consistent treatment no matter where they live.
The new measures in Bill C-8 would also build on the significant support for businesses that became law with the passage of Bill C-2 in December. Bill C-2 was built on the understanding that with the spread of the omicron variant, public health restrictions had to remain in effect in certain regions across the country to contain its spread, and that many of these restrictions would have an impact on businesses. With Bill C-2, our government made sure that economic support was available to them if and when they needed it.
While lockdowns have now eased across the country, the application period for the local lockdown program remains open to provide wage and rent subsidy support of up to 75% to employers who have had to reduce the capacity of their main business by 50% or more.
To expand access to the program at the height of the recent restrictions, we temporarily lowered the revenue decline threshold for eligibility from 40% to 25%. Expanded eligibility for these wage and rent supports ran from December 19, 2021 through to March 12, 2022.
For businesses facing other pandemic-related losses, support is also available through the tourism and hospitality recovery program and the hardest-hit business recovery program. Many tourism-related businesses in Bonavista—Burin—Trinity were able to take advantage of that support, and I am told many tourism businesses across the entire country were able to take advantage of that support.
By supporting businesses through these challenges, these programs are protecting people's jobs and allowing people to stay connected to their employers. As the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said, this keeps people strong; it keeps families strong and it keeps businesses strong. That is what we need to keep our economy strong.
In conclusion, like all Canadians, we hope that lockdowns and capacity restrictions will continue to become a thing of the past. We know that Canadians are tired of COVID-19, but the unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 is not quite tired of us. We put supports in place so that public health authorities could make the right, albeit difficult, decisions, knowing that the federal government would be there to support workers, small businesses and other employers in their communities when needed.
That is why Bill C-8 is so important. It would continue to do what is necessary to sustain the recovery and provide help where it is needed, to create jobs and set the stage for strong growth for years to come.